Occupying one of Britain’s most spectacular sites, Castell Dinas Brân is a medieval castle towering on a hill about 1,000 feet above the Dee Valley and the town of Llangollen in Denbighshire, Wales. It is also the site of an Iron Age hill fort built around 600 BC.
This was an earthen rampart construction probably topped by a wooden palisade and protected by a deep ditch on the southern slope. Dinas Brân is one of many hill forts in this part of Wales; Moel y Gaer is just a couple of miles to the north-west near Horseshoe Pass, and another is close to the east. A rugged, foreboding pinnacle, the hill was the ideal spot to build a castle. It seemed completely impenetrable, commanded views for miles around, and offered quick recognition of approaching visitors. However, the Welsh princes of Powys only occupied the hilltop for a few decades.
The castle ruins still visible today were probably built by Gruffydd II ap Madog sometime in the 1260s. It was one of several castles built following the signing of the 1267 Treaty of Montgomery which had secured the country for Llywelyn, Prince of Wales.
The history of the castle during the final war which flared up again in 1282 is not known. It may have been recaptured by the Welsh but ultimately the English were victorious. When the war ended the castle was granted to John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey. Instead of rebuilding Dinas Brân, de Warenne chose instead to build a new castle at Holt on the Flintshire/Cheshire border and Dinas Brân was left alone, existing to the present day as a picturesque and romantic ruin.
Today, that same ruin is open to free exploration by the public. The historic importance of the castle, combined with the breath taking grandeur of its siting creates a unique Welsh castle experience. Access to the summit is by climbing a well-marked path, but the climb to the top is not an easy one; modern day visitors experience the struggle that the castle’s medieval inhabitants – and their attackers – must have felt. The walk is a challenge however but the climb heightens the allure of Dinas Brân and its compelling views of the green valley from its summit.
If you’re ever in the area or even staying in Llangollen, make sure you take the time to visit this remarkable castle. Do drop by the ProAdventure shop for directions.